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Visit opens new vistas for progress

The just concluded four-day whistle stop tour of Indian by Prime Minister John Key will undoubtedly be written in the history of internal diplomacy as ‘one of the busiest and most useful engagements in bilateral relations.’

His charm, enthusiasm and ability to undergo a punishing schedule of meetings, speeches, luncheon and dinners in three cities was in fact a testimony to his eagerness to get closer to the world’s largest democracy.

A mere 72-hour stay in a vast country of diversity and disparity of political ideology and commercial practice was no doubt inadequate to understand the intricacies of economic cooperation but it at least set the pace for a more constructive engagement in the ensuing years.

For one thing, it took New Zealand closer to India, enabling the leadership of both countries to understand and appreciate the need for an early (and successful) conclusion of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), negotiations for which are at a critical stage.

Secondly, the visit would have enabled the Indian Government to realise the fact that although small, New Zealand is not unimportant on the world stage. Its stubborn stand on preventing nuclear proliferation, climate change and other issues, purely resting on a clean and green environment was not lost in the echelons of power in New Delhi.

We understand that India’s Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh would pay a return visit to this country in the near future, which in essence would not only bring the two countries closer as perceptible democracies but also enable the peoples to understand each other better.

Apart from its potential as the future world power, India’s impressive rate of economic growth and immense demand for a wide range of goods, services and technology, makes it a great customer for New Zealand.

Mr Key and the business delegation were even more convinced of the immense potential that India offers to foster mutually beneficial bilateral relations than they were prior to the visit.

While export of agricultural goods, dairy products and wine are areas that currently challenge FTA negotiators, New Zealand’s readiness to provide agro-technology and other expertise would find enthusiastic reception in India.

India can boost the New Zealand economy with its huge, young population in a number of sectors, including Education, Tourism and Foreign Direct Investment.

According to an associate in Delhi, India can provide this country with at least $20 billion a year through these sectors, in addition to trade, which has the potential for another $20 billion. We need smarter and more efficient immigration, education and investment policies that would attract the Indian population.

Tariffs and non-tariff barriers hit trade. The relatively thin presence of New Zealand firms in India is also a constraint. Although there are significant strategic alliances, for the most part, New Zealand companies are not large investors in India.

But improvements are now becoming apparent, with greater emphasis on specialised manufactured products.

Mr Key may have scored a major point with his visit to India, opening the doors wider for a more substantial bilateral engagement.

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